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Analysis

U.S. players demonsrate growing comfort with Arena system.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Sunday, June 11, 2000) -- Admittedly, it was not Mexico's "A" team. Nor for that matter its "B" team either. But the enhanced Pumas squad is not a bad side and the United States dominated today through most of the match, clinching the Nike U.S. Cup with a 3-0 victory.

What's more important, the Americans seemed to finally find the flow in the style that national team coach Bruce Arena seems to want his team to play, compiling a 2-0-1 record in the tournament.

As he has in the past few matches, Arena started four defenders in today’s U.S Cup . But as he did with D.C. United with such success in his Major League Soccer days, Arena had his two outside defenders, Tony Sanneh and David Regis, push forward whenever possible. That left Carlos Llamosa and Jeff Agoos back on defense with midfielders Chris Armas or John O'Brien tracking back to provide cover. It worked well, although neither Sanneh nor Regis was able to provide the kind of service to the forwards that the team needs.

Sanneh, especially, seemed to be finding his way at the outside defender position, where he will likely find himself once qualifying begins in a little over a month.

"I'm still not completely comfortable back there," Sanneh said. "I'm an offensive player by nature and I want to push forward. But I'm always afraid of getting trapped out of position. Bruce wants me to overlap to the outside but Earnie (Stewart) plays so wide at times, I find myself coming down the middle. But I'm getting the hang of it and today was a better effort I think."

Stewart has made a major improvement in the way the team has played in the last two weeks. He adds an offensive dimension that has been lacking. He works especially well with striker Cobi Jones who lines up in front of him, although the two end up side-by-side more often than not. That showed on Brian McBride's opening goal.

"We have played together a lot now," Jones said. "I'm comfortable with him. On the goal, I knew he would overlap on the outside so I was ready to give it back to him even before he fed it through to me."

There was a flow to the U.S. attack that has too often been missing in the past. Reyna, especially, was able to move forward more often than he has and to better effect.

One problem the U.S. has had has been distribution by its goalkeepers. Partly to blame is that neither Keller nor Friedel has played with the new FIFA rule requiring keepers to release the ball within six seconds of possession.

Keller's distributed well today. "It's something we have talked to them about," Arena said. "Overall, it was a good tournament for the U.S. Not only did they bring home the Cup, they clearly put themselves in a better position for qualifying that starts in mid-July. We got in three matches. We got to know each other better. I got a good look at everyone. Now we're going to get together in three weeks and go from there."

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6: Was as good as he had to be. Was always well positioned. Distribution at times continues to be a problem but is starting to get used to six-second rule which he played for the first time in this tournament.

Defender David Regis - 5: Again a spotty match. Seems to be unsure of his role. Pushes forward, but then has trouble getting back. On several occasions, lost his man at key moments, but without paying a price. Still seems to need work with his teammates.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7: Another very strong performance. Was constantly a step ahead of the Mexicans he was marking. Showed good range moving from left to right. His second well-above-average performance in a row.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 7.5: An absolute rock on defense. One of his best national team efforts. Until he wilted in the heat in the late going, with Agoos, he completely shut down the middle of the Mexican offense. Solidified his claim to be a starter in World Cup qualifying.

Defender Tony Sanneh - 5.5: A much better performance than a week ago. Clearly still learning his position. Hesitant to get caught out of position, at times does not push forward aggressively enough. But makes some excellent defense stops and some offensive thrusts. May end up winning this position on a full-time basis.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: A start at a new position, left wing. Actually played probably better than expected. Did a competent job in the defensive end and got more involved in the offense than when he played a supporting central midfield role. Showed he can be a dependable replacement for Eddie Lewis if need be, but does not have Lewis' offensive flair.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 6: His usual dependable outing. Provided cover for the outside defenders when they pushed forward and at times got involved in the offense himself. In other words, did exactly what was asked of him, very well. Has become one of the team's most dependable players, match in and match out.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 6.5: Was more involved in the offense than in some previous matches. Had several good scoring chances himself, and set others up. Always works hard. As he has recently, seemed to tire in the late going, likely the result of a long European season.

Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 6.5: Was everywhere on the field. Continues to show tremendous range attacking both from the right side and the left. Has had a positive influence on the team over the last two matches.

Forward Cobi Jones - 6.5: Another very high-level performance. Has been the offensive spark for the U.S. in this tournament. Exhibited strong ball skills and was able to beat defenders one-on-one. Still need to cross the ball better. Had several great opportunities in which he was not able to get the ball to teammates.

Forward Brian McBride - 6: Probably a better overall performance than a week ago against South Africa. Did not get much service in the air and instead showed some good ball skills. Goal was the result of good positioning and perseverance. A solid performance.

Reserves

Midfielder Ben Olsen (64th minute) - 5: High energy, but not much in the way of results. Had two excellent scoring chances, but could not finish. Is getting open and getting his chances, but has to finish better.

Defender Gregg Berhalter (71st minute) - 6: Came in for an exhausted Llamosa and played solidly in the defensive middle. Teamed well with Agoos and showed good range and excellent anticipation. If not a starter, a dependable replacement or role player in the back.

Midfielder Frankie Hedjuk (76th minute) - 6.5: Came on in a perfect situation, against a tiring defense. Provided a spark and was finally able to push forward with effect. Goal was well deserved for his effort. Showed his best role for the team will be as a late sub, probably in midfield and not on the back line.

Forward Ante Razov (81st minute) - 7: Opportunistic goal. Only played a few minutes, but made the most of his time. Showed he can finish nicely. Might not be a starter, but looks to have earned a place on the squad.

Forward Jovan Kirovski (84th minute) - no rating: Came on in the late going and really made little impression on the match.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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